#WCSK Episode 1.8: The Church

Introduction

Here are some questions that many churchgoers do not often consider: what is the Biblical definition of the church, and what function does it serve? Why should anyone go to church, and what are you expected to do in a church? From prior lessons, it is now clear that the five core principles of Christianity do not include a “church” of any kind, so what value does the church add to the Christian’s life?

As I shall explain, the church is much more than a “building” or an “institution” that also serves as a mechanism to nurture, cultivate, and develop existing believers as well as to evangelize unbelievers. It is also a place where people can assemble in order to praise and worship God, participate in baptism and communion, and fellowship with others. The church is not responsible for salvation, does not atone for sins, and does not mediate between us and the Father—only Jesus does those things. And logically speaking, this makes perfect sense, because as we have learned, salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. The entire process is God-dependant. The church therefore has no monopoly on God, nor does it have any ultimate power over your eternal life. Certainly, going to church and being an active church member does not make anyone righteous; only The Lord knows who are His,[1] and it is therefore futile for any of us to decide otherwise. Although the word “church” is used loosely in modern society, the Bible offers very specific prescriptions for what the church is and what it ought to do.

The church unifies and brings people together. As Ephesians 2:14 says, in Christ, “you who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barriers of the dividing wall.” As we shall discuss, members of the body of Christ can be distinct, but they are not separate because all are joined together under the common banner of Jesus. Distinction does not equal separation.

Finally, one thing to keep in mind when studying the nature and functions of the church is to pay very close attention to the Holy Spirit, Who plays a “leading role” in the life of the church. Jesus, Who is the head of the church,[2] was conceived by the Holy Spirit,[3] and the Spirit anointed Jesus at His baptism.[4] Additionally, at the start of Jesus’s public ministry, He read a scroll from Isaiah that read, “The Spirit of The Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of The Lord”[5] (italics mine). Hence, a church that is Spirit-filled and Spirit-led entails being like Jesus, Who was anointed, equipped, and empowered to do His earthly ministry by the Holy Spirit. The entire point of the church, then, is to continue the ministry of Jesus as God instructed His disciples in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and makes disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit”.[6] God sent Jesus,[7] and now Jesus sends us.[8]

I. What is the Church?

What Christians should know is that the church is the faithful community of all those who are saved through belief in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Jesus is the head of the church.[9]

The “church” begins in Acts chapter 2 when the Holy Spirit descends from heaven on the Day of Pentecost. There, we learn that many were “together in one place” (v. 1) when the Holy Spirit filled the people, who then began speaking in foreign tongues. Subsequently, “devout men from every nation” came together (vv. 5-6) and were amazed because they heard the gospel in their own language. This unified the people for a common good under a common banner and reversed the division and separation that happened at the Tower of Babel.[10] This event coincides with the Biblical narrative that when God saves people, He brings them together, and when He judges, He separates them. Next, the apostle Peter preaches a sermon and testifies to the saving power of Jesus, and the result was that “when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (vv. 37-38). Those who received the gospel and were baptized began “continually devoting themselves the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer … all those who had believed were together and had all things in common … day by day continuing with one mind … praising God and having favor with all the people … and The Lord was adding to their number day by day” (vv. 42-47).

So, what is the church? The short answer is found in Acts 2—the Holy Spirit empowering people and turning people’s hearts and minds toward Jesus. This is a paradigm that transcends traditions and institutions and is a totally free and voluntary act open to any and all those who will hear and receive the good news.

The Greek word for church is ekklesia[11] meaning a religious congregation or an assembly of members on earth or of saints in heaven or both. Accordingly, the church is not one physical structure fixed in time, but a timeless institution that transcends any physical location. The church is both a tangible and a figurative organization. It is for the church that Christ gave up His life: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”[12] The word church did not become familiar in the Bible until the writing of the New Testament, but the Old Testament offers several examples of God calling together a faithful community of those who believed in Him. In Acts 7:38, for example, the martyr Stephen uses the word ekklesia to refer to the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness. In fact, the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) uses the word ekklesia most frequently in order to translate the Hebrew word, qahal, which means “assembly” or “to gather.”[13],[14]

Christ gave Himself up for all of humanity—past, present, and future. The church is the body of Christ that is ruled by Jesus. That authority to rule was granted by God: “And He put all things in subjection under [Jesus’s] feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”[15] Jesus exclusively builds the church (He calls it “My” church),[16] and in that building process, The Lord is the one Who adds people to churches.[17] The church equates to unity,[18] being made anew,[19] and fellowship among the members of the household of God.[20]

The church is both visible and invisible. A very easy way to think about this is that we can only see the visible church, whereas God is able to see both. The ekklesia that I can see includes my local church and the people who attend it as well as all the other churches and people around the world that I can visit or see in pictures. The invisible church, however, includes all those saints in heaven who serve as a “cloud of witnesses.”[21] As Hebrews 11:4-32 mentions specifically, many faithful believers of the past are now enrolled in heaven and worship in the “church.”[22] By implication, the invisible church is in a very secure position and is immune to corruption. The visible church is actually in a very precarious situation, where many “savage wolves” prey on sheep,[23] and false prophets attempt to deceive many.[24]

The Bible doesn’t give a number that defines how many people a church must have, nor does the Bible state where the church must operate. Romans 16:5 and I Corinthians 16:9 label a church as a gathering in someone’s house. In other places, the church refers to the assembly of an entire city,[25] and Acts 9:31 refers to a church throughout “all Judea and Galilee and Samaria.” The New Testament also refers to the church that exists throughout the entire world.[26] Hence, the church is …

WCSK Stewardship Grace Money Tithe Church Body of Christ Jesus Spirit Corinthians

Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal

For Further Reading

R.C. Sproul, What is the Church? (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2013), Kindle

[1] II Timothy 2:19

[2] Colossians 1:18

[3] Luke 1:34-35

[4] Luke 3:21-22

[5] Luke 4:18-19

[6] Matthew 28:19

[7] Luke 4:43; John 8:42

[8] John 17:18, 20:21

[9] Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:15-16; Colossians 2:19

[10] Genesis 11

[11] For example, as used in Acts 20:28 and I Timothy 3:15.

[12] Ephesians 5:25b

[13] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 854.

[14] Examples of use of the word qahal include Genesis 28:3, Exodus 16:3, Numbers 10:7, Deut 4:10, and II Chronicles 1:3.

[15] Ephesians 1:22-23

[16] Matthew 16:18

[17] Acts 2:47

[18] Ephesians 2:14

[19] Ephesians 2:15

[20] Ephesians 2:19

[21] Hebrews 12:1

[22] Hebrews 12:23

[23] Acts 20:29-30

[24] Matthew 7:15-16

[25] I Corinthians 1:2; II Corinthians 1:1; I Thessalonians 1:1

[26] I Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 5:25

[27] Matthew 6:9, Ephesians 3:14

[28] II Corinthians 6:18; Galatians 4:1-7

[29] Matthew 12:49-50; I John 3:14-18

[30] Romans 11:17-24

[31] Matthew 13:1-30; John 4:35

[32] John 15:5

[33] I Peter 2:5-6

[34] I Timothy 3:15

[35] I Corinthians 12:12-27

[36] John 15:1

[37] Hebrews 3:1-4

[38] Matthew 16:18

[39] I Peter 5:4

[40] Matthew 28:20

[41] Revelation 2:1-5

[42] Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:15-16; Colossians 2:19

[43] John Calvin, Institutes 4.1.9

[44] Titus 2:1

[45] Titus 1:9

[46] I Corinthians 3:1-4, 4:18-21, 5:1-2, 6; 6:1-8; II Corinthians 1:23-2:11, 12:20-13:10; Galatians 1:6-9, 3:1-5

[47] I Corinthians 1:10-12

[48] I Corinthians 2:1-9

[49] I Corinthians 3:3

[50] II Corinthians 11:3-4

[51] I Corinthians 11:23-33

[52] I Corinthians 11:21

[53] I Corinthians 8

[54] I Corinthians 10:20

[55] I Corinthians 12:2

[56] Revelation 2:9, 3:9

[57] Philippians 1:3-11, 4:10-16; I Thessalonians 1:2-10, 3:6-10; II Thessalonians 1:3-4, 2:13

[58] Colossians 3:16

[59] Ephesians 5:16-19

[60] Acts 11:29; II Corinthians 8:4; I John 3:17

[61] Matthew 28:19

[62] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 868.

[63] Luke 6:35-36

[64] Luke 4:40

[65] John 4:6

[66] John 4:28-30, 39-42

[67] John 10:16, 17:21, 23; I Corinthians 1:2, 10, 13, 10:17, 12:12-26; Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 2:2

[68] Colossians 1:28

[69] Titus 1:9

[70] I Timothy 2 and 3

[71] Titus 1:11

[72] Jude 3

[73] I Corinthians 11:17-34

[74] I Corinthians 5:6-7, 12-13

[75] Church discipline is always meant to restore, reconcile, and prevent sin from spreading to others. Discipline is executed just as a loving father disciplines his son (cf. Proverbs 13:24; Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 3:19). For the prevention on the spreading of sin, see I Corinthians 5:2, 6-7; Hebrews 12:15. Matthew 18:15-17 provides the blueprint for conflict resolution, and the following verses detail examples for what church discipline is to be exercised: heresy (II John 10-11), blasphemy (I Timothy 1:20), divisiveness (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10), incest (I Corinthians 5:1), laziness (II Thessalonians 3:6-10), and disobedience (II Thessalonians 3:14-15).

[76] Ephesians 5:18-20; Colossians 3:16-17

[77] Matthew 28:19-20; John 13:34-35; Acts 2:44-47; I John 4:7

[78] I Timothy 3:1-13

[79] Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16; I Corinthians 4:20; II Corinthians 10:3-4; Galatians 3:3-5; II Timothy 3:5

[80] I Thessalonians 4:3; Hebrews 12:14

[81] Acts 4:32-35; Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10

[82] I Corinthians 14:12

[83] I Peter 1:8; Revelation 2:4

[84] Romans 16:17-18

[85] Jude 19

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